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My Special Valentine’s Day Dinner

I decided to make my special Valentine’s Day dinner a day early so it would be available for anyone who may want to make all or part of it for their own Valentine celebration.

There’s nothing quick and easy about the prep. Lots of cutting things into heart shapes, which is time consuming, but, hey, that’s what makes it special. I have heart-shaped cookie cutters somewhere, but I can’t find them since moving last Spring, so I cut everything free-hand.

The “Here’s My Heart Salad” features artichoke hearts, romaine hearts, hearts of palm, and heart-shaped red beets. You can use your favorite dressing — I used a vegan Caesar, but a balsamic or raspberry vinaigrette would be nice to cast a rosy glow.

For the Wellingtons, I cut seitan and portobello caps cut into heart shapes and sautéed them and let them cool. I then stacked them and wrapped them in a piece of puff pastry that I shaped like a heart and baked them at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.

At the last minute, I decided to pierce the pastry with an asparagus “arrow” (cute, huh? My husband thinks I go overboard.) The sauce is a red wine sauce.

The heart-shaped potatoes were cut out of a large russet and roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper. I placed a roasted red bell pepper heart on each slice of potato.

For dessert, I made a small plain cheesecake and then enrobed it with melted chocolate. The garnish on top is some heart-shaped cherry jam topped with a chocolate-cherry truffle, that I shaped into a heart, and “iced” with vegan cream cheese. More truffles and some dried cherries complete the effect.

Okay, so I told you about my special dinner – now I’d like to hear about your Vegan Valentines celebration.

Valentine’s Day Dinner — Over the top?

I must be a romantic at heart, but there’s something about Valentines Day that makes me want to prepare what some may consider an over-the-top theme dinner. Each year I try to outdo myself, setting parameters such as all the food has to be red, or all the food has to be heart-shaped. One year I tried for both, and it was a bit extreme, even for me.

This year, I’m going with a “heart” theme, too – everything I serve has to have “heart” in either it’s name or shape. I’m posting the menu now. I’ll post photos of the results on February 14th:

Valentine’s Menu
Here’s My Heart Salad
(artichoke hearts, romaine hearts, hearts of palm and heart-shaped red beets)
Heart-Shaped Wellingtons
(sauteed seitan and portobello cap cut in heart shape and layered between heart-shaped puff pastry and baked)
Roasted Heart-Shaped Potatoes and Red Bell Peppers
Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake topped with Chocolate Cherry Truffles
(I’ll shape the truffles like little hearts)

Let me know what you think of my menu or share one of your own.

Mini-Marathon: Six Recipes in One Hour

This morning was crazy. I’m up to my eyeballs in work, but a newspaper reporter and photographer were due at my house at 10am for an article about my recent winning of a PETA Proggy Award for Quick-Fix Vegetarian as Best New Cookbook– here’s the link for all the winners:

In addition to actually combing my hair and tidying up the kitchen, I needed to prepare some recipes from the book to be photographed for the article. Since I couldn’t decide which one or two recipes to make, I ended up making six of them. Here’s the best part: all six recipes took me only an hour to make. I’d say the “quick-fix” recipes are living up to their name. Here are the recipes I made this morning and their photos.

Artichoke-Hummus Wraps with Spinach Tortillas

Hummus wraps are an ideal fast food lunch idea, made even faster when you have some rich, creamy hummus on hand. Make your own or buy some ready-make at the supermarket. If spinach tortillas are unavailable, regular flour tortillas may be used.

1 cup prepared hummus, store-bought or homemade
4 spinach flour tortillas
1 (12-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, well drained and chopped
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 carrot, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Spread about 1/4 cup of the hummus on each of the tortillas. Top with the chopped artichokes, followed by the lettuce and carrot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Tightly roll up the tortillas. To serve, cut in half and arrange on plates.
Serves 4

Corn Chowder with Limas

This luxurious corn chowder includes lima beans as an homage to succotash. Because baby limas are smaller than the larger ones, they take less time to cook. To cut cooking time further, heat the vegetable broth in the microwave for 5 minutes while the onion and potato are cooking.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 white potato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups frozen baby lima beans
3 cups frozen corn kernels
1 1/2 cups soy milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped pimientos, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and potato, cover, and cook until softened, 5 minutes.
Add the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the limas and corn and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low, stir in the soy milk and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup right in the pot. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer about 2 cups of the soup to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Stir back into the pot. Reheat soup if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with pimientos.
Serves 4

Apricot-Pineapple Couscous Cake

This couscous cake is one of those easy and versatile recipes that lends itself to a variety of toppings, from sliced fresh seasonal fruit, to a fruit coulis, to toasted nuts and a drizzle of chocolate.

2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup couscous
2 dried apricots, snipped into tiny pieces
1/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pineapple Apricot Sauce (recipe follows)

Bring the pineapple juice to a boil in a saucepan. Add the couscous, apricots, pineapple, sugar, and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the juice is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Press the mixture into a lightly oiled 9-inch springform pan. Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least an hour.
To serve, cut into wedges and top each slice with a spoonful of the Pineapple Apricot Sauce.
Serves 6

Pineapple Apricot Sauce

This luscious sauce has a glorious golden color and tastes more complex than it is. It’s a perfect match for the Pineapple Couscous Cake (above), but it is also terrific on pound cake or ice cream, or as a dipping sauce for fruit. Instead of apricots, you can substitute dried mangoes or peaches for yummy results.

1/2 cup dried apricots
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup crushed pineapple

In small saucepan combine the apricots and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove cover, lower heat, and simmer until the apricots are soft and the liquid reduces slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from stove and allow mixture to cool slightly. Transfer the mixture to a blender or processor and puree until smooth. Add the pineapple and blend again until smooth.
Makes about 2 cups

Five-Minute Slow-Cooker Chili

Using chunky salsa eliminates the need for vegetable chopping and helps keep the prep time to a minimum. You can literally put this chili together while walking out the door. Come back a few hours later to a luscious meal. Garnish with cooked corn kernels or diced avocado.

1 (24-ounce) jar chunky tomato salsa
2 tablespoons chili powder, or more to taste
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
2 (16-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pour the salsa into a 4-quart slow cooker. Stir in the chili powder and ketchup. Add the black beans, kidney beans, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and slow-cook on Low for 4 to 6 hours.
Serve 4 to 6

Ginger Sesame Noodles with Broccoli

This satisfying dish that is loaded with flavor and nutrients. Instead of making this recipe with sesame paste, try it with creamy peanut butter instead – it’s even more kid-friendly that way! (You can then sprinkle on some crushed peanuts instead of sesame seeds as garnish.)

2 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons mirin or sake (or just a little extra soy sauce and water)
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces linguine
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Put the pasta water on to boil in a large covered pot. In a small bowl, combine the sesame paste, brown sugar, mirin, and hot red pepper flakes until well blended. Stir in the tamari and water until blended. Set aside.
When the water comes to a boil, salt it and add the linguine. Cook the linguine until it is al dente, about 10 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add the broccoli florets and cook until just tender. When the noodles and broccoli are cooked, drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with the sesame oil and set aside.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved noodles and broccoli, and the sauce, and toss to combine and heat through. Serve hot sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Serves 4
Variation: Substitute asparagus or green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces, for the broccoli.

Chocolate Cherry Truffles

These rich-tasting truffles look adorable when presented in little foil or paper candy cups. Use a high-quality cocoa for best results. Sweetened dried cranberries may be substituted for the cherries, if desired. Peanut butter can be used instead of almond butter.

1/4 cup sweetened dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup almond butter or peanut butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup pure unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Coating of choice: cocoa, ground toasted almonds, toasted coconut
Place the cherries in a heatproof bowl and cover with 1/4 cup boiling water to soften. Place the cherries and their soaking liquid into a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the almond butter and process until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Blend well, then transfer to a bowl.
Shape a small amount of the mixture into a ball, rolling with your hands into a 1-inch ball. Repeat until the mixture is used up. Drop the truffles, two or three at a time, into a shallow plate containing either cocoa, almonds, or coconut, depending on your preference. Roll the truffles in the coating, covering completely and pressing the coating lightly onto the truffles. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until firm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Makes about 3 dozen